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Crossing Over: Getting Your Feet Wet – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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John and David were brothers, two young men who worshipped in my parish in England.  They had not been baptized as babies, but now felt the time was right.  They asked me if I could baptize them by total immersion.  So, on a beautiful summer’s day we and their family and friends gathered around a swimming pool.  Having taken advice from the local Baptist minister, I climbed down into the water, in blue jeans and an alb, and baptized them.

It left a powerful impression on me.  Baptism inside a church at the font is always a moving experience, with the water symbolizing washing, cleansing, thirst quenching, reviving.  But when those two young men were plunged down beneath the deep water scared, and then came up again – there was a real sense of dying – and rising again.  I had never before felt so powerfully how in our baptism we share in the death of Jesus, and also share in his resurrection.   I remember blessing the waters with the moving prayer from the English prayer book:  “We thank you Lord, that through the deep waters of death, you brought your Son, and raised him to life in triumph.”

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, water, especially deep water – lakes, rivers, was something to be feared: it represented chaos and death.  In the Book of Genesis, when God created the world he created it from a dark, formless void, covered with deep dark waters.  Out of these waters of chaos, God brought forth creation, in the form of dry land.  Then later, when God was sorry that he’d ever created humankind, he reversed the process: God caused a great flood, and only Noah and his family were left to witness this terrible return of creation to watery chaos.

And when, in the Book of Exodus, God calls Moses to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt toward freedom in the Promised Land, the greatest sign of God’s desire and power to save was the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, to reveal the dry land – and then, that chilling return of the towering walls of water, to plunge Pharaoh’s army into a watery grave.

Rivers, lakes, seas, were not friendly images for the Israelites: rather, they threatened chaos and death.  We who are brought up on Romantic Wordsworthian pastoral images of beautiful lakes and rivers, forget that being a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee was not at all romantic, but an occupation fraught with anxiety – sailing on a very dangerous lake where storms could arise without warning, and where drownings were common.

And so the image of God parting the waters of the Red Sea, and letting the Israelites cross over on dry land, remains an archetypal and potent image of God’s power to save.  It is an image which would be fundamental in the Hebrew people’s developing understanding of God,  because this water, which was usually seen as dangerous, here becomes nothing less than a gateway, a crossing over to life.

And it is this developing theological understanding which lies behind the story which we have just read from the Book of Joshua.(Josh 3:7-17)  Moses has indeed led God’s people across the Red Sea, and through the wilderness.  He sees the Promised Land, but God says, “You will not cross over,” and he dies on the verge of Jordan.  It is Joshua whom God appoints as his successor.  God says to Joshua, “My servant Moses is dead.  Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them.”  Easier said than done!  The waters of the Jordan were very deep.  And because it was harvest time, the water was especially deep, overflowing all its banks, and fast flowing.

And so it was that the priests, bearing the ark of the covenant, waded into the water.  As soon as the soles of their feet rested in the waters of the Jordan, the waters stopped flowing and were wholly cut off.  And the people crossed over the Jordan on dry ground, into the Promised Land.

It’s a great image – crossing over from death to life – but what is particularly significant is the role of the priests.  The priests’ role is to help God’s people cross over from death to life.  But they can only fulfill their sacred task if they are prepared to get their feet wet!  And that is precisely what they do not do in our Gospel reading today.  Matthew 23 is a terrible indictment of religious leaders who have abdicated their sacred task of helping others cross over from death to life, and who will not get their feet wet!

O yes, they sit on Moses’ seat, but instead of offering the way to life, they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.  They are no longer servants, going before God’s people, walking ahead of the people into the deep waters, showing them how to cross over to life.  Instead they are content to weigh others down, only to see them sink beneath the overwhelming waters of death.

No wonder Jesus is so harsh in his condemnation of them.  In their blindness they could not see that Jesus, like Joshua before him, had been divinely appointed by God to lead God’s people from death to life.  Just as Joshua enabled God’s people to cross over, through the deep waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land, so Jesus, by his death and resurrection, would enable us to cross over the deep waters of death, into eternal life.  Jesus, our great high priest, like those priests of Joshua, walked ahead of his people into the waters of death.  Not only did Jesus get his feet wet, but plunged down into the deepest and darkest place – as if to assure us that there is no place to which we can sink, however dark, however chaotic, however fearful, which is beyond the saving love of God.

“If I make the grave my bed, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand hold me fast.”(Ps 139:7-9)

“Fear not, says the Lord, for I have redeemed you.  When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”(Isaiah 43)

We who have been baptized have this wonderful assurance, that in the waters of baptism we have died with Christ, but also been raised with Christ.  We have passed over from death to life.  Alleluia!  That is the Paschal mystery, which is at the heart of our faith and our life.  It is this which we celebrate at Easter, and on every Sunday – the day of Resurrection.

But this dying and rising, this crossing over from death to life which happens at baptism, is not a one-off thing – but it is to be our daily vesture as Christians.  We are called every day to die to sin and death, to be crucified with Christ, and rise again to new life.  But that means “we have to get our feet wet.”  We have to walk out into the deep waters – into what we most fear, trusting that God will not abandon us, but rather longs to redeem us.  That place of fear will be the very locus of our salvation.

I wonder if there is something in your own life now which confronts you, or challenges you, or attracts you, but which you deeply fear.  How can I go into those deep waters?  It could kill me.  Maybe it will.  But maybe unless you die you cannot live.

At this Eucharist this morning, we celebrate the Paschal mystery.  “Behold we have passed from death to life.”  So perhaps God’s challenge to us today is to truly live that life that Christ has won for us.  Don’t live your life in the shallows.  You cannot find peace by not living life.  Get your feet wet.  Walk out into the deep waters of the unknown – but filled with faith and trust that God will meet you there in Christ, and that he will guide you, and carry you when you fall, that he has promised that he will lead you across dry land, and land you safe on Canaan’s side.

Alleluia.

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22 Comments

  1. gwedhen nicholas on February 1, 2017 at 12:24

    Thank you Br Geoffrey. I really needed to hear your message this morning. I am facing something which attracts me, but also makes me fearful,because I’m not sure how I will do it. Thank you for telling me to get my feet wet and, in dying, rise to new life. I need to take the risk of living, and not let others discourage me. Gwedhen

  2. Annette Foisie OSL on January 31, 2017 at 10:23

    When my church, St. Mary’s, makes dinner for homeless
    men, we sit and talk with them as we break bread together. Last Saturday, as the men were talking about the hardships of homelessness, one of the men asked me if he could receive Baptism at St. Mary’s. I have passed his request on to our Priest, who is happy to plan for this to take place among us. I was blessed to witness this man’s longing to commit himself to Christ. Thanks be to God.

  3. Michael on August 30, 2016 at 13:20

    Facing our fears and trusting God, challenges to be faced again and again

  4. Ruth West on August 30, 2016 at 13:05

    One of these days I shall be crossing “the great divide.” I know Him who is waiting to receive me on the other side. I have no fear. Thank you, once again, for this very meaningful sermon. I like all of yours, but this is one of my favorites. May God bless you with grace, joy and strength this day.

  5. Roy Hogg on August 30, 2016 at 11:43

    In the present challenge, facing “deep waters”, your sermon cuts to the core. Embrace fear, or move forward with the assurance faithful servants of God have crossed over before me. Many thanks.

  6. Dee Dee on August 30, 2016 at 09:25

    “You cannot find peace by not living life.” So very, very true. Thank you for saying it so simply, yet eloquently.

  7. Marta E on April 13, 2016 at 00:44

    Baptism in deep water. . . . I feel that I am in deep water, and that the way is not clear, still yet at my advanced age. And, this past sunday, my two-month old grand-daughter was Baptized, when the Priest threw the water high up, and as it came down it glistened and glowed in the candle-light before he marked her forehead. Very dramatic and memorable.
    What will it be for this tiny baby? What will it be for any of us? Only to know that God is there, before us, behind us, and within us if we constantly stay tuned in. I keep trying . . . . . . . and waiting . . . . . . .

  8. Ruth West on April 12, 2016 at 12:06

    Such a good sermon! I, too, was baptized by emersion when I was eight years of age. I had little understanding about the rite of baptism, but knew it was a beginning of declaring my faith. It was a scary experience, in that I was a non-swimmer, and the water was quite deep. But I trusted the one who held me tightly, leaned me back as his arm supported me. Since that day Jesus has held me in HIS arms, supported me, loved me, taught me, forgiven me and constantly sustains me.
    I love reading all the comments, interesting and uplifting words of encouragement. Thanks to all.

  9. a city monk on April 12, 2016 at 10:57

    The take away….

    We have to walk out into the deep waters – into what we most fear, trusting that God will not abandon us, but rather longs to redeem us. That place of fear will be the very locus of our salvation.

    I wonder if there is something in your own life now which confronts you, or challenges you, or attracts you, but which you deeply fear. How can I go into those deep waters? It could kill me. Maybe it will. But maybe unless you die you cannot live.

    ….amazing how God let’s us know that we are not quite “all in”. There is, TWO TAP Moses… who my heart knows so well! If one tap is what the Lord told me to give the rock well… two would be insurance that I heard right…

    Hard when my heart keeps hoping for a Plan B, one with shallower waters, one more swimable in my old age. Out of condition now, there was a time when leaning completely on the Lord came so easily. But tossing in that ‘second tap’ here and there… muddies the waters and leaves Moses thinking he is all that and a bag of chips! Dear Dear Two Tap Moses…
    Plan A… just one tap… Come on… all in!

    • a city monk on April 12, 2016 at 11:40

      Baptism… is all in! No Plan B… No more Two Taps on the rock because the angry thirsty crowd might be worse than the Lords ….
      Baptism… with the Companionship of Mary and John in this season of my life, my faith seems so small, my trust shallow… Mary and John held nothing back… what a gift to have such bearing witness! to a vocation of Love…

  10. Rhode on April 12, 2016 at 08:27

    In 1971, myself and several of my high school friends were baptized by immersion …one of the most moving experiences in my life. I remember feeling clean and shiny all over. True, also, many of us wandered a wilderness of life experiences later. Having come full circle I am realizing that the death and resurrection of our lives in Christ is an everyday walk indeed. Thanks be to God for the power of His Spirit to comfort and direct. …to ‘know whom we have believed and are pursuaded that He is able to keep that which we have committed to Him against that Day’!

  11. David Cranmer on April 17, 2015 at 18:18

    One thing that struck me is the idea of water being so threatening to the Israelites. I now get a deeper understanding of parting the Red Sea. We have to exercise faith to follow our God into what appears to be threatening, when in reality He is leading us to something better. I too was baptized by immersion. It is a very moving experience.

  12. John Fritschner on April 16, 2015 at 13:07

    Thanks for helping me , encouraging me to walk into the water, to focus on that which is scary to me, that, with Jesus’ help, I can overcome.

  13. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas on October 24, 2014 at 11:16

    This is a powerful sermon, well worth multiple readings. It invites me to let my place of fear become the very place where I encounter God. And to venture into deep waters, where “deep calls to deep.” Thank you, Geoffrey.

  14. Mary Taggart on October 24, 2014 at 09:43

    Thank you so much for this reminder not to “dip my toe” into the shallows, but to immerse myself in the unknown depths, that I might better serve Christ. In a discernment process there are moments of feeling thrown in as a non-swimmer. Miraculously, one rises to the surface to breath and freedom. Thank you!

  15. anders on October 24, 2014 at 09:14

    Thank you. At times life is a flow, at other times it entails crossing a strong flow, and yet other times it is about a dive deep down to where the sea monsters. Whether crossing the waters, casting my nets deep into my primal fears, or being led by a priest and community blindly through dark, scary times, its good to know Im never alone.

  16. Claudia Booth on May 12, 2014 at 08:50

    With deep waters, darkness and death, we are familiar. Somehow, proclaiming and integrating the resurrection in our lives requires a community to shout, “Alleluia!’ with and for us in whatever context we are found. Alleluia, thank you Brother Geoffrey for this meditation of hope.

  17. Nancy Underhill on May 11, 2014 at 10:28

    Your brief message for today is memorable..thank you. We at St. Paul’s are losing our beloved Rector, Alan Gates. He is to become Bishop of Massachusetts. You will undoubtedly meet him: he is wonderful. Blessings, Nancy

  18. Connie Holmes on May 11, 2014 at 09:03

    I apppreciate this most beautiful reflection on the call to face our fears, walk through the deep and come into new life.

  19. Leslie on May 11, 2014 at 08:15

    What of the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years, but had no one to carry him into the pool when the angel came down and troubled the water? Was his real paralysis failure to take responsibility for his own healing? Did the community fail him, as he perceived; or was Jesus showing us a new way?

    • Bernadette on August 31, 2014 at 06:36

      As I reflect on that Scripture, I think
      that man’s paralysis was every bit about his frame of mind as it was his body. At first glance, I was tempted to pity the man ….struggling for years to get his one shot at a miracle, and everything and everybody is against him. I wondered why Jesus, who had compassion for so many, didn’t respond with some kind word, to at least acknowledge what the man was telling him. But instead, Jesus shows “tough love” and says, “Get Up!” To me, it’s like the proverbial kick in the rear to change his focus. Don’t lie around one more minute, wallowing in discouragement and self pity, It hasn’t gotten you anywhere in all this time. Instead, focus on God and take responsibility (pick up your mat/clean up your mess) to start moving forward.

  20. Allene T. Taylor on May 11, 2014 at 07:15

    Thank you, Br. Geoffrey, your words have special meanign this morning.

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